He Delivered for Me
How my UPS man went from annoyance to emotional lifeline.,
For the first year of our relationship, I didn’t know his name and didn’t welcome his interruptions. I felt hassled by the unexpected knock on my window, which was necessary to get my attention because my apartment lacked a doorbell.
Despite my annoyance, I secretly named him Kris, for Kris Kringle, because he was a kind of modern-day Santa Claus. With his white hair and grandfatherly vibe, he brought me presents and tried to spread cheer. Except his uniform was UPS brown, not Santa Claus red, and I had ordered and paid for the presents myself.
Our relationship started nearly two-and-a-half-years ago when I moved into a small, ground-floor apartment north of Boston. My boyfriend and I weren’t quite ready to move in together, so this was an interim step, a place for sleeping when I wasn’t at the office or socializing. And I was almost always at the office or socializing.
On the rare days I was home, the UPS man, seeing my car in the driveway, would knock until I reluctantly came to collect my package. I hated small talk, but with him I made an effort, chatting about the weather or Tom Brady, fail-safe topics for building camaraderie in Boston.
I asked my somewhat misanthropic boyfriend if it was odd for me to spend so much time with the UPS man. He said it was weird, possibly dangerous, and urged me to ignore future knocks, which should have been easy advice to follow. But Kris reminded me of my father, who also had spent his workdays alone on a truck (in his case, delivering home heating oil) and had loved chatting with his customers, so I continued to answer the door.
But that was all before. Before my boyfriend and I broke up. Before Tom Brady moved to Florida. And before Covid changed everything, including my feelings toward Kris, the UPS man.
Trapped in my studio apartment, I craved conversation and company. Days would pass without any human contact. My upstairs neighbor got sick and went to the hospital. I watched people outside my window sneaking into the closed church to pray. My entire world had become small, lonely and apocalyptic. And far from dreading Kris’s knock, I became a Covid version of Pavlov’s dog, salivating when I heard it.
Well, not exactly salivating. But I did look forward to his visits and deliveries, which were plentiful. From workout equipment to tie-dye jumpsuits to baking supplies, he brought the endless stream of stuff I had ordered and would then stay for some face time.
With him standing at the edge of the porch, masked, and me in my doorway, we discussed current events (the volatility of the toilet paper market), pop culture (we both loved Baby Yoda) and details about our lockdown hobbies (he had taken up gardening while I was learning how to play the recorder).
One dreary afternoon, he lingered for a particularly long chat, sharing details about his new lemon trees. After walking me through the entire repotting process, he said, “Well, I hope this helped.”
It was then I realized that he meant our five-minute conversations to be a lifeline — and he was possibly doing the same for others, despite his busier-than-ever workload.
On days without deliveries, I would work uninterrupted at the small desk I had set up facing my front window. Between strategic planning sessions on Zoom, I would watch the traffic outside, looking for his brown truck to pull up my narrow, one-way street.
Despite my ex’s warnings, there was nothing the least bit creepy or even flirtatious about his overtures. Kris would tell me about his favorite routes and neighborhoods, how he loved tree-lined streets but hated hills and was obsessed with “Star Wars.”
I even learned his real first name, Dave. He had a wife and two sons, whom he worried about constantly. Part therapist and part guardian angel, he also checked in on my mental health (“Are you losing it yet?”), my work (“How many Zooms today?”) and my distractions (“Any new hobbies?”).
One sunny day in early June, he motioned to the package he had placed on the porch and said, “That felt heavy. New workout equipment?”
“Nah,” I said. “It’s just a dumb frying pan.”
By then, he knew me well enough not to shrug it off. “Why do I feel like there’s a story here?”
I hadn’t told anyone the embarrassing truth of the pans, but with him, the story poured out. “Over a decade ago,” I said, “my mother found a gorgeous new cookware set on sale at Macy’s. She was saving it for my wedding shower, or my sister’s, whichever came first. Because that hasn’t happened yet for either of us, the pans sat in my mother’s basement, mocking me every time I went down there. So last month, I finally took them.”
My mother hadn’t told me to take them — not because she didn’t think I deserved to, but because doing so felt like I was throwing in the towel for both me and my sister.
“Honestly, I’m not sure why I took them,” I said. “I thought I would feel empowered, but I just feel sad.” I looked at the ground as my eyes welled with tears. Blinking them away, I said, “Anyway, to use instead, I bought an overpriced, nontoxic pan I saw on Instagram, and you just delivered it.”
Dave stood quietly for a moment, as if working out a complicated math problem. “I had a dream the other night that the world ended,” he said, “but I survived. I know that’s a lousy thing to say given what’s happening, but it wasn’t sad, because my family survived too.” He shrugged behind his mask. “I wonder: If it all disappeared, except for you, your family, your house, would those pans hold the same meaning?”
I shook my head. “Probably not.”
“You are exactly where you are supposed to be,” he said. “I believe that. And I hope someday you do too.”
One hot day in July, Dave knocked with a package, and when I answered, he told me that UPS was changing his route. My heart sank as we stood in our usual spots, him leaning on the railing and me in the threshold of the door.
I was embarrassed to admit how much I had come to depend on his visits. Other than a few outdoor get-togethers with friends and family, I had been completely alone. Sometimes I would even abruptly end Zoom meetings when he arrived, happily trading screens and Slack messages for actual human contact.
“I’m excited for a change,” he said, “but I’m going to miss my regulars.”
“Congratulations.” I didn’t know what else to say. How do you thank a person for saving your sanity?
He broke the silence with a typical Dave question: “When travel becomes safe, where will you go first?”
“Italy,” I said. It was always Italy. Not knowing how to say goodbye to Dave, I instead babbled about the small Pugliese town where my mother was born.
“That must be nice to know where you come from,” he said.
“It is. I only wish it helped me figure out where I’m going.”
He nodded, but between his mask and sunglasses, it was difficult to know what he was thinking. “I used to wonder what I was doing with my life,” he said. “My job, this job, just felt so — small.”
“Nothing, apart from my attitude,” he said. “I realized that I was delivering people things they needed, things that brought them joy. Even before the pandemic, I decided it was important.”
I couldn’t see his smile through his mask, but I could sense it. “So wise, you are, Padawan,” I said. “And so important.”
At that, Dave finally pulled down his mask and flashed a smile, then offered me his elbow before turning to leave — all of my gratitude and affection reduced to an elbow bump. I owed him so much more.
That was many months ago. I haven’t spoken to the new guy yet; he comes and goes like a ghost, delivering my packages without knocking.
I still miss my friend. If I saw Dave tomorrow, I would tell him I’m learning the theme to “Titanic” on my recorder, planning a trip to Italy with my sister, and I just got my first shot. I would ask him how he and his family are doing and if the lemon tree bore fruit. More than anything, I would ask him for his address so I could deliver something to him this time — a gift of my appreciation.
Danielle Festino is a senior director of leadership giving at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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